Serial Numbers Filed Off: The Dregs

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Pendragon: Thrice X’d

Lord Kay, we’ve lost another of the scouts sent to gather intelligence on Mordred’s activities.

Damnit, I told Wart that his men would never even get close. Those turncoats can smell when someone lacks their own stench of dishonor. All we’re doing is wasting good knights and householders.

That may be so, m’lord.

Let’s try something new. I want you to find me the roughest bunch of outcasts you can: forsworn knights, mercenary captains, picts, woodsmen, pagans, and wizards if you can find any. But here’s the thing: they have to be loyal, or at least have something they want desperately that only Arthur can give them, not Mordred.

I must caution against trusting such…

We’re not going to trust them. As much as it pains me, they’re expendable. Their goal is to get in, blend with the other riffraff that the would-be-prince surrounds himself with, and gather intelligence. If they get back with something useful, then there are lands, wives, pardons, or whatever else their grimy little hearts desire. If they don’t… well, at least it won’t have been another loyal knight caught scouting.

Spying, you mean, m’lord?

If the King asks about it, it’s “scouting.” We’re walking a delicate line, here. My foster brother would never allow something like this to proceed if he knew all the particulars, but he also underestimates what a threat his bastard is. We keep this quiet, we keep this deniable, and we get the information that’s going to let us win the inevitable war. Understood?

Yes, m’lord.

Then get to work.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Uncertain Agendas

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Pendragon: Secure Fortress

“Sir Matthew of West Nohaut, I bring news!”

“Please, just Sir Matthew, speak not to me of Nohaut. I pray to claim lands closer to Camelot soon, and, eventually, win a seat at the Table.”

“But your lands are central to that of which I speak. Last night, that vicious blackguard Lord Frost was captured making for Newcastle.”

“Lord Frost the dishonored knight? He that abandoned his seat at the Table to work as a common mercenary across the sea?”

“The very same. He seems to have learned something of dire military import and is trying to smuggle it north of the Wall. We need somewhere loyal to the King to secure him while he is interrogated.”

“I am ever Arthur’s loyal knight, but I will not turn my hand to torture.”

“Worry not, Sir Knight, the wardens that caught him will bear any shame. They merely need a secure place to work…”

“Lord Frost! A score of knights, crests hidden, just besieged my home! The wardens are falling. As my prisoner, it is my duty to protect you.”

“Where was such honor when those men sought to break me? No matter. Have you a wife? Children?”

“None as yet?”

“Good. We must flee. Those are Mordred’s men, and they will slay all in this home but me to hide their deed and seek to uncover my secrets for their own master. Our only hope is to escape. You should go your own way and try to find who sold you out!”

“No. I’ll see you returned to safe imprisonment by those loyal to the crown. To Camelot itself if I must! We will flee, but you remain unarmed and my prisoner.”

“We shall see…”

Splitting the Party… in time

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We just finished a very awesome penultimate Pendragon session. Our GM has to move, so is in the position of having to resolve the Great Campaign a little over 40 years from the end (on our second batch of characters, we’d just reached about the year the standard campaign starts). It was essentially handled by setting up two quests that the party had to split to pursue: One drove the group into Faerie, where they were time shifted and slipped forward to the final year of the campaign. The other sent the group to become guardians of the Gnostic Gospels (that had been recovered in game dozens of sessions previously). The knights that slipped in time emerged as they had entered (with a Glory bonus for being presumed dead in the pursuit of a quest). The knights that guarded the holy texts were able to either accrue standard yearly bonuses but have to counteract several decades of aging penalties, or take a greatly reduced influx of character traits due to spending most of their time working at rites of life extension contained in the books. The final game should see the return of great knights thought long dead and very old and decrepit/weirdly monkish knights to engage in the final fight for Britain. We’re all very excited.

The whole thing, however, leads me to consider other options for handling the situation. Pendragon offers a built-in tradeoff, as any year without an adventure drastically slows character improvement and moves the characters closer to decrepitude. However, few other systems have such an innate mechanic: if one character has an active downtime and the other an inactive one, the active character should logically come out more powerful based on previous adventuring. This could be anything from cryo-sleep in sci-fi to torpor in Vampire, but players will very likely be upset if their characters spend several sessions growing quickly in power and then a long period with no advancement purely to retain party balance.

The following options can be used, individually or mixed together, to create a logical but acceptable divide between those who stayed active and those who slipped in time.

  • The vigor of rest/youth: Also popular in some games that allow players to choose between callow heroes and experienced veteran, this system presumes that those with a fresh outlook on things will gain more from adventures, quickly catching up with the elders that spent much of their years with limited accelerated-learning opportunities. The GM determines how much advancement was accrued by the active characters for the long downtime, splits it up into gradually shrinking packages, and awards it to the inactive players as bonus advancement for each session, likely with a small bonus. This means that, after a certain number of sessions, the inactive characters will again be of equal (or slightly greater) power than their counterparts, but the active characters will have an advantage for several sessions.
  • Can’t forget what you can’t ignore: Characters that are active through a downtime will typically accrue “background” traits as part of their advancement. In addition to positive growth, the GM should layer on a number of new enemies and troubles that have plagued the active characters over the years. These will be issues that should serve to harass the active characters in the new adventures while mostly leaving the inactive characters unscathed. Meanwhile, if the time slip is long enough for the inactive characters to be presumed dead, or at least not a threat any longer, their personal demons should fade in threat, allowing them several sessions of additional effectiveness at surprising the foes who were not expecting them. Further, active characters shouldn’t lose too many background traits that aren’t easy to recover if desired, particularly if they were not at fault for slipping in time.
  • Unexpected vigor: Many situations that split a party in this way will be extremely unusual in nature: walks through Faerie, stasis or cryosleep, supernatural torpor, etc. Inactive players in these situations might actually gain equivalent advancement to the active characters. However, these points are allocated, as directed by the GM, to buy only traits that might arise from the condition: psychic or supernatural powers, unexpected physical traits, or other traits relevant to the reason for slipping. The players that lose time don’t lose stats, but simply emerge with unexpected new capabilities.
  • Fortune and background currency: Each character gains a certain number of Fate or Drama-point-esque tokens for the downtime. Those that slipped in time can use this currency to buy minor alterations of fortune or bonuses in the standard way for such points, to represent reality refusing to cause them to suffer extreme misfortune again so soon after losing time. The active characters can use their points for minor but beneficial declarations about the setting based on things that might have happened during the period that was glossed over (e.g., “fortunately, I visited here often in the past few years, and can find a contact to help us.”).